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Paramount Studios presents
Fatal Attraction: SE (1987)

"The impact of Fatal Attraction on society, at least in the short run, was like the impact of Jaws on swimming."
- A psychologist commenting on the film's social effect

Review By: Dan Lopez  
Published: April 16, 2002

Stars: Michael Douglas, Anne Archer, Glenn Close
Other Stars: Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin
Director: Adrian Lyne

Manufacturer: DVXX
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, sexual content, language)
Run Time: 01h:58m:00s
Release Date: April 16, 2002
UPC: 097360176247
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-B+A- A

DVD Review

It's interesting how filmmakers can create a project that inadvertently makes history. Fatal Attraction, for all intents and purposes, looked like your fairly average thriller when it came out in 1987. Nothing about it seemed particularly extraordinary, but it did indeed cause something of a revolution in the contemporary thriller genre. It introduced a certain style, attitude, and a definite, cautionary social message. In the late 1980s, when it seemed American culture was self-absorbed with overindulgence, Fatal Attraction was the metaphorical equivalent of Wile E. Coyote squashed by an anvil: an unintentional warning to men (and women) who had casual affairs. At the time, I wasn't old enough to appreciate this, so I observed this social phenomena from the outside, as would any pre-teen. It wasn't until many years later that I first saw the film and truly understood its cultural impact as one of the ultimate "urban nightmare" films. It's amazingly adept in creating a situation in which any one of us may find ourselves, then turns it upside down. Since its success, there have been numerous clones and films of similar style and setup, but virtually none of them have been anywhere near as clever and, in a sense, restrained as the original.

Michael Douglas portrays Dan Gallagher, a lawyer with a wife, a daughter, and a good life. One weekend, while his wife is out of town, he foolishly gets himself involved with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), a woman whom he's met through work. Dan figures their affair will be a simple thing that can be quickly forgotten, but Alex will not let it go. Rather suddenly, she reveals a disturbed side of her personality; she obviously suffers from a number of psychological problems, not the least of which is an urge to control and "own" Dan's life. He does his best to stop her advances until she reveals to him that she's pregnant with his child, at which point Dan realizes things have gotten much more serious. Alex unleashes a campaign of slow, methodical terror on Dan and his family, and the intensity increases with every moment.

Ultimately, what makes Fatal Attraction so strikingly effective is the very careful technique in both writing and direction. Adrian Lyne's style fits the storyline like a glove, from his moody visual techniques to his amazing penchant for subtlety. Despite being a thriller with some fairly creepy moments, Lyne wisely holds back on the heavier style until it is absolutely needed. He manages to keep things balanced enough so that, even with Alex's emotional problems, this could believably happen anywhere to any family. The acting is also a crucial component. In similar thrillers where one member of a family is the center of a great conflict like this, the family is usually very meager in their supporting roles. Here, the casting of Anne Archer as Dan's wife results in an amazingly strong bond between the audience and her character; she's not just window-dressing (Look, Dan's got a wife!), she is important in conveying just how much Alex is upsetting the family order. Ellen Latzen was obviously cast as their young daughter because of her great charisma; she effectively fills the role of the most innocent victim, effective not just because she's cute or can lisp out a few lines to get viewer reactions. Glenn Close turns in one of her best career performances as someone who can be both sweet and charming, then ultimately disturbed. It's also worth mentioning that prior to this role, Close had never really played anyone particularly menacing or frightening, but she certainly proves her critics wrong here.

Again, just about every element in this film is very well calculated; even Maurice Jarre's musical score shows an amazing amount of care. He doesn't overload the scenes with loud, jarring strings—until it's really deserved—but rather moves in small, but powerful strokes, with his subtle piano pieces saying so much more. Fatal Attraction is slick and refined without really being obviously so, and that, to me, is a hard technique to get right because it has to feel earnest and come from the hearts of the filmmakers. Although, because of its age, the film is no longer quite as surprising and clever as it once seemed, it still stands as a classic piece on many levels. Stylistically, there are clever little touches here and there. For example, Dan's apartment and home is warm, cheery, and filled with a human touch. Alex's apartment, on the other hand, is devoid of any significant decoration, neo-retro in its artistic style, not to mention surrounded by the surreal imagery of the nearby meat storage houses, almost as if to suggest Dan is moving between worlds when he sees her.

Of course, the social aspect of the film is easily its most controversial, because many people took it as a serious commentary on casual relationships and even as a condemnation of single women who have affairs with married men, as if to say they're all deadly. I don't agree with that, though. I think the script cleverly touched some nerve that made people take it more personally than your average movie. I also don't believe that intelligent women like Glenn Close and Anne Archer would put so much effort into a film that was "obviously" supporting such a misogynist point of view. Fact is, these things can happen, and despite the ripping apart of every inch of potential symbolism in Fatal Attraction (and there is plenty), I think these charges are a case of over-analysis. It IS just a movie; the trick is, it's about something very, very, human.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer handles the dark, grainy visuals pretty well, albeit with a few small artifacts here and there. The source print is very clean, but some small age issues are present, like a few scratches and dust speckles here and there, but it never has major impact on the overall image. Personally, I think the transfer could have been stronger—maybe a higher bit-rate—because there are issues with some of the darker scene getting wrapped up in grain, which tends to exaggerate compression artifacts. The image isn't at all disappointing, it just could use a bit more "oomph," so-to-speak. That said, it's a satisfying disc with no major issues that spoil anything.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The English Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is extremely well done, which is great since Fatal Attraction is a film you really don't associate with active audio per se. The 5.1 adds a surrounding ambience to the film that, at times, is simply amazing. For example, the opening credits pan over the city of New York before settling on the lives of Dan and his family. As this is done, the track literally immerses you in cityscape noise, engineered in such a way that it's almost like being there. Whenever this kind of strong ambience is needed, the soundtrack delivers it very well, using lots of directionality and surround effects to drop you right into the world of the movie. When things get more upbeat, it pumps out the heavier action just as well. The 2.0 Surround track (in English) keeps this kind of quality going for most part, but lacks the same transparency and depth. It doesn't feel as effortless and absorbing, but it is still a good track. A French stereo track is also included, but it lacks some of the punch of the others.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Rehearsal footage.
Extras Review: A number of good features are included on the disc, including some that originally appeared on the "director's signature" version of the VHS released some years ago by Paramount.

Perhaps the two most interesting extras are the Forever Fatal and Social Attraction features. Forever Fatal (running 20 minutes) is a new documentary with the core cast and crew remembering their experiences of making the movie. It features interviews with actors Glenn Close, Michael Douglas and Anne Archer; producers Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing; director Adrian Lyne and co-screenwriter Nicholas Meyer. It examines the whole process of the film from story to finished product in a quick, but in-depth way, featuring a lot of insightful commentary from all participants. There are a lot of clips from the film, but overall, the majority is filled by the memories of the personalities, so it's not promotional or fluffy in any way. They also discuss the circumstances behind the original ending. Culled from the same interviews is the Social Attraction featurette (about 10 minutes) which probably should have been attached to the main documentary, and is basically about the social effect of the film. Since Fatal Attraction obviously touched a nerve with a lot of people in subjects ranging from relationships to infidelity, it obviously had quite an effect on ordinary people, and this piece explores that phenomenon. It features interviews with the same people as in the Forever Fatal piece, but also includes numerous psychologists and one woman who examines the film from a critical point of view, sighting it as a negative portrayal of women and possibly anti-feminist. These issues are given a fair shake and discussed seriously, although most of the cast and crew don't understand the over-analyzation of the gender issue.

Next is the documentary entitled Visual Attraction (20 minutes), which features new interviews with the crew that were behind the atmosphere and visual aspects of the film, including cameramen, costume designers, cinematographers, and production designers. Again, it's a well made piece about the core issues behind the making of virtually any film. It explores the ideals that they wanted to uphold in terms of keeping it stylish but balanced. The film's original ending is presented which, for those who haven't seen the special VHS edition, will be quite an interesting treat. The ending tested negatively, and was replaced with something that felt more conclusive, but it's an interesting and very daring, psychological ending that's quite "un-Hollywood." However, I don't think the film would have worked as well with it, frankly, so I'm glad they spiced things up a bit. The one flaw is that this original ending footage does not actually include all the original footage, but thankfully, the stuff that's missing is given some treatment in the documentaries.

If all this wasn't enough, there is a feature-length commentary by director Adrian Lyne which, as usual for Lyne's commentaries, says a lot even though he is never very animated or talkative. I assumed that it might have been recycled from the laserdisc or some other, older edition, but it must be extremely fresh as Lyne actually makes a brief reference to the Sept. 11th disaster early on in the track.

There are tapes of rehearsal footage between Michael Douglas and Glenn Close that reveal the evolution of certain scenes, as well as the invention of ad-libs and improvisations that made it into the film and things are rounded off with the original trailer. Presentation-wise, the disc wisely chooses to not go overboard, and uses good, but subtle, animated menus, and Paramount kept the original cover artwork.

If I had any complaint, it would be the lack of good chapter stops. There simply aren't enough, and many of them are 15-minutes in length. While the original interview featurette with Adrian Lyne that appeared on that "signature edition" VHS is gone, the new documentaries and commentary easily make up for that small exclusion.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Paramount delivers a quality, satisfying edition of this classic thriller and is simply a must-see for either longtime fans or newcomers to the movie. The fact that the disc acknowledges the social phenomena surrounding the feature allows viewers to get some intelligent commentary about deeper issues than just the usual kind of fluff often seen on DVDs. Fatal Attraction is the kind of work that people should watch, appreciate, then put away and wait awhile to see it again. I think it will keep impressing and inspiring as time goes on.

 


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